US legal consultancy Hildebrandt has warned its 5,000 clients to expect a fall in growth in the coming year due to fluctuating international and US markets and a slowdown in the US economy.
The firm sent out a "client advisory" bulletin last week, saying it had reduced its estimate for net income growth for well-managed firms from between 10 and 11 per cent to between 5 and 8 per cent.
The bulletin adds that M&A lawyers report transactions being postponed or cancelled while banks are tightening lending criteria, bringing worldwide project finance work "close to a standstill".
"This combination of circumstances is causing some firms to experience the first signs of lawyer workload reduction," it said.
Paul Mickey, managing partner of 300-lawyer Washington firm Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge, said he anticipated a slowdown in 1999, although he believed IT outsourcing work - the firm's specialisation - would increase.
Mickey said he believed firms would not over-react: "They have got a lot better at business management, and are much better at controlling costs, which means they can cope with downturns without imposing a hiring freeze."